Para-site

PARA-SITE

MOMA,
NEW
YORK,
NY

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), founded in 1929, was the first American art museum dedicated to modernism. MoMA moved into its permanent home, designed by Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone, a decade later. Completed in 1939, the new building defined a modern architecture for modern art that included open galleries with track lighting, movable partitions, and white walls. It established a paradigm of gallery space — the “white cube”—that has since become the norm. Conceived as a “neutral” setting that focuses attention on the art, the white cube isolates art from context: the object is stripped bare to accept the curator’s interpretation. The museum directs the eye of the visitor, but every viewer nevertheless smuggles their own perspective into the gallery. The site-specific installation Para-Site intervenes in the complex construction of vision in the museum.

Para-Site interprets the three definitions of “parasite” established by the French philosopher Michel Serres. First: The biological parasite is an opportunist, a guest living on or in another organism, its host. Rejecting the conventional surfaces of the museum — floor and wall — the project instead considers all surfaces as potential topographies. The guest structures thus adapt and exploit the particular circumstances of the host site in order to gain electrical and structural sustenance. The components suspend from, wedge between, clamp onto, cantilever off of, compress into, and suction against the host’s promiscuous surfaces.

Second: The social parasite is a sycophant, frequenting the tables of the rich and earning its welcome by flattery. The installation flatters its host by putting the museum on display while offering the entertainment value of voyeurism to the public.

Third: The technological parasite is a type of interference. The guest structures interrupt the optical circuits of the exhibition space by enlisting the unwitting public into a closer inspection of vision: the museum becomes an object of its own scrutiny.

The installation reaches beyond the designated Projects Room into several remote locations within the museum’s circulation system. Video cameras at each site relay live feeds to monitors within the gallery, where the images are recontextualized as hybrid fictional and nonfictional episodes. The monitors are arrayed along a horizontal median located halfway up the gallery wall, forming a shared datum for actual and fictional viewers.

The main entrance at Fifty-Third Street is MoMA’s public interface. In place of a traditional museum’s grand entrance are four revolving doors, valves of nonstop exchange between street and institution. Video cameras cling to the ceiling above each door, relaying live feed to corresponding monitors in the ground-floor gallery. Diagonally wedged into a corner of the room, the four monitors offer an otherwise impossible surveillance view of the entry. No one entering or leaving the museum can escape this unblinking gaze.

Substituting for a ceremonial stairway — which, in traditional museums, elevates art to a privileged domain above the street — is a set of escalators. Like revolving doors, escalators are conveniences of commerce, used for the expedient transport of consumers through retail space. Their slow mechanical motion, however, performs the grand stairway’s other function: to serve as a stage for the theatrical display of moving bodies.

Doors in the north wall of the lobby lead into another location, the Sculpture Garden, a domesticated exterior. A single monitor wedged into the corner of the Projects Room receives a live video feed from a camera mounted inside and aimed — through the glass wall — at a convex security mirror in the garden. The mirror, which is clamped to the building’s external structure and stabilized by suction cups on the glass facade, reflects into the camera’s lens, the very surface being looked through.

  • Doorway detail
    Doorway detail
  • Video still
    Video still
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Project information
Location         MoMA Projects Series, New York, United States
Credits
TeamElizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio